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Last Updated:  Sunday, 16 March, 2003, 14:47 GMT
Dominicans protest at high prices
Opposition protests in Santo Domingo
Domincans have seen the cost of basic goods shoot up
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters in the Dominican Republic took to the streets on Saturday to demand that the government do more to bring down the cost of living.

Banging pots and carrying banners, demonstrators shouted "We are hungry" and "The country is broke" as they marched through the capital, Santo Domingo.

Popular anger and frustration at rocketing prices and a collapsing currency has been growing in recent months.

The main opposition Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), which organised the march, is demanding new controls on public spending and an end to corruption.

Correspondents say the opposition is also seeking to capitalise on growing disenchantment with the government ahead of the next presidential election, due in May 2004.

President Hipolito Mejia has blamed high fuel prices and the prospect of a US-led war on Iraq for the country's growing economic problems.

These include:

  • inflation last year at 10%

  • the national currency, the peso, down 30% against the US dollar

  • electricity prices up 130% since September

  • unemployment about 16%, its highest level since 1996

Protester Laura Perez, brandished a crucified doll with an empty milk bottle.

Misery

"I can't feed my children anymore," she told the Associated Press.

"We want prices to return to what they were before because we can't live any longer in this misery," 35-year-old Hector de los Santos told AP.

The protest, dubbed "a walk for hope" by the opposition, was led by the former president, Leonel Fernandez.

Ex-president Leonel Fernandez
Fernandez has attacked the government's economic policies
"All the opinion polls put [our] party in first place and today on the streets we have achieved victory in the first round," Mr Fernandez said, in a clear reference to next year's presidential election.

Organisers said about 100,000 people demonstrated, while local media put the figure at about 50,000.

Traditionally dependent on the export of sugar and other agricultural products, the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean.

Tourism is the country's second most important source of foreign exchange, after sugar.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Dominican Republic
11 Mar 03 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Dominican Republic
11 Mar 03 |  Country profiles


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